Harpswell citizens vote on gas plant
Citizens of Harpswell will be voting at a town referendum to decide whether to grant a lease allowing the construction of a $350 million liquefied natural gas terminal in the town on March 9.
Although approval of the lease might bring in as much as $380 million in revenue for Harpswell over the next 50 years, many members of the community have already objected to the proposal.
Many Harpswell residents have met the proposal with vehement opposition. In December, 180 people, including fishermen and their family members, turned out for a rally in opposition to the Fairwinds project.
Jordan Parman, a Bowdoin senior living off campus in Harpswell this year, was impressed with the passion many community members felt over the construction of the terminal.
"I'm amazed by the amount of passion this issue stirs up in the community," said Parman. "Driving down Route 123 from southern Harpswell to Bowdoin, it's great to see so many signs on front lawns showing the opposing viewpoints on the issue."
Many fishermen at the December rally argued that the tankers transporting the liquefied natural gas would disrupt lobster traps and destroy fishing equipment. Additionally, many have questioned whether the underwater pipeline could harm lobster or their habitat.
According to Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne, right now it is difficult to say whether concerns over the terminal's environmental impact are justified.
Payne said, "The current situation is hard to nail down because so much is unknown. The pipeline is the biggest determining factor in terms of the environmental impact; a lot depends on where they put it. It's hard to know the impact without knowing the location. Could it have an environmental impact? Yes. Could the impact be mitigated or avoided? Yes."
What makes the situation in Harpswell unique is that the route of the pipeline will not be determined until after the March 9 town referendum. "The people of Harpswell will have to decide if they want to lease the land. If so, a long process to review the environmental impact [of the pipeline] will begin after that," said Payne.
Environmental impact studies usually are conducted after a company applies for a permit, but in this instance, the companies involved in the Fairwinds project are requesting a lease, so the environmental impact studies are not yet necessary. However, project description and impact documents have been made public.
Before constructing the pipeline, a hired consultant will videotape the bottom of the basin to determine a location for the pipeline that won't disrupt the lobsters' habitat.
Part of the proposal states that fishermen will be compensated for any equipment damaged by the tankers, but some residents of Harpswell still feel that the terminal and tankers will have a larger, negative effect on the fishing community and the environment. Parman said,
"Lobstering families have expressed concern that this project will destroy not only their source of income, but also a precious way of life."
Spokesmen for the Fairwinds project have tried to address these issues. Three open houses have been held to allow members of the community to ask questions and get answers. According to Mike Quesnel, manager of corporate client services for the Fairwinds project, maintaining community involvement has been one of their main goals.
"We've been working closely with the fishermen, addressing issues related to not just the lobster but also the whole marine environment including fisheries, lobster, and shellfish," said Quesnel.
Harpswell residents have also been able to voice opinions at town meetings. Parman, who takes minutes at selectmen meetings, noted that members of the community are very worried that the town has already changed too much.
"At the selectmen meetings, it has been unbelievable to hear passionate individuals reflecting on the evolving character of the town," said Parman. "It seems as though there is already some existing resentment that Harpswell has been changing from a small fishing community with long family traditions into a town characterized by new stock market money and escalating property values."
According to the Fairwind's ground lease agreement summary, traffic in and out of Casco Bay will be regulated and from June through September, LNG vessels will only be allowed to enter the bay at times when there are very few fishing vessels on the water.
Project officials hope to construct the terminal at what was once a Navy fuel site. Liquefied natural gas would be transferred from ships into two on-shore tanks. The liquefied natural gas would then be converted into natural gas and pumped out of the terminal through a new pipeline to Cousins Island in Yarmouth. The terminal would be able to pump out as much as 500 million cubic feet of gas per day.
Citizens of the Harpswell community have raised concerns over the safety of the fishing industry and the safety of the public. In September, two major energy companies held a meeting to reassure residents that the project posed no threat to the safety of the community.
According to the Fairwinds website, Peter Micciche, the project's Stakeholder Relations Manager, said, "We realize that most residents may not be familiar with LNG, its excellent safety record, and its role in providing a clean and abundant source of energy that will help stabilize energy supplies and prices in the region. We plan to take as much time as necessary to explain the project and address your concerns."
The facility will be equipped with surveillance cameras and armed guards and the tankers will be doubled hulled.
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